Gratitude Brings The Greatest Happiness

October is drawing to a close and the ‘Holiday Season’ looms large on the horizon. Not surprisingly, people are turning their thoughts toward Thanksgiving and the spirit of gratitude this holiday is meant to inspire. Lately, parents have been asking me about gratitude. They want to know how to raise grateful children. They want to avoid raising children with a false sense of entitlement. They bemoan the materialism of our time, which paradoxically peaks at this time of counting our blessings, and they wonder how to course correct.

What I tell them is just common sense. To raise grateful children, you have to be a family that cultivates gratitude and generosity all year round, not just at Thanksgiving. But that still leaves the question of HOW? unanswered. So for those of you who like tips and strategies, the rest of this post is for you….

For children to develop a sense of gratitude, they need to understand that the blessings in their life are the result of someone else’s effort and sacrifice. Often it is parents and teachers who are not only meeting the child’s needs, but who are going above and beyond to give the child the very best while demanding very little in return. Sometimes it feels like we are literally raising little princesses and princes!

Children need to know that good things are the result of generous and hard-working people. Getting kids to appreciate our efforts on their behalf can start with early teaching on compassion and how to help others. Allowing young children to work alongside us in the home or in the classroom is an important step in developing gratitude.

Having our kids work alongside us can be frustrating. Ever let your toddler fold laundry with you? You know what I’m saying. The job takes longer and requires more of us: more patience, more participation, and more self-control when they mess it up. It is not always convenient to include children in our daily chores, but it is always valuable.

When we take the long view, we see the importance of helping our kids become helpers. Not only do these helpful kids gain necessary life-skills, they gain a felt sense of purpose from doing something to contribute to their family’s well-being. This feelings of ‘active membership’ within a family can be extended outward to the community and later to the global world we live in. There are countless opportunities to feel good as a result of helping others.

And once a person understands the ’embeddedness’ of life and relationships, they begin to appreciate all that others do for them. They come to understand that simply looking out for their own private interests won’t make them happy or serve them well in the long run.

Here are some more ideas to help you lay a foundation of appreciation in your family’s life:

1. Begin a Thankfulness Ritual: Recently my family began sharing what we are thankful for during our dinnertime. We are often thankful for the food we have to eat and the home that shelters us. Simple expressions of gratitude can have a profoundly positive effect on thoughts and behaviors.

2. Appreciation Journal: Take time at the end of each day to write about what you are currently appreciating in your present situation. I find this works whenever I am facing challenges. The resources and help we need are always available to us if we shift our focus to them.

3. Give Handmade: The holidays will soon be upon us. Perhaps you could suggest a “bake it or make it” gift-giving arrangement for your family or friends this year. Such actions work against the negative influences of our rampant consumer culture by encouraging all of us to be “Creators” as opposed to “Consumers”.

4. Ask “Who Needs My Help Today?” – Children should be taught to understand that sometimes the needs of others trump their own. Look around your family and community for who needs help, assistance, or care. Participation at this level in a family or a community builds a strong foundation of support in a child’s life and gives them a sense of belonging.

5. Earn Treats, Rewards, and Praise: Expecting to get something for every little thing you do can not only lead to an entitled child, but also to one who lacks any sort of intrinsic motivation as well. Be thoughtful about when and how you choose to reward. Two general rules of thumb are to keep praise specific so the child understands what they did well; also, keep rewards minimal and linked to effort rather than outcome.

6. Teach Media Literacy: Parents face a huge challenge going up against mass media. From infancy, kids are marketed to and groomed to be consumers. It is never too early to start teaching media literacy skills, and to set limits on media consumption and content. We do not have to buy into the hype that a happy holiday means lots and lots of presents!

An early “Happy Holidays” to you all! I hope this post will help you reflect on ways to more meaningfully connect and celebrate with your family and community this season and all year round!